Tag Archives: digital technology

Digital and society – true love or an unhealthy obsession?

Rachel Drinkwater
Senior Business Analyst
University of Coventry

Reflections from a bursary winner

In his book ‘The Rise of the Humans’, Dave Coplin  expounds that technology is neither good, nor bad. It is simply an amplifier of whatever we, as society and individuals, choose to use it for.

The media however certainly seem keen on amplifying the negative aspects of our relationship with technology, with often rather sensationalist reports of children as young as seven ‘sexting’ , a mental health “epidemic” in young people being directly attributed to social media usage, a decrease in the age and an increase in the severity of reported loneliness  an increase in divorces attributed to gaming addiction and claims of reducing memory and attention spans in young people and adults alike. Indeed it’s not just the media reporting these bad news stories. Numerous academics and researchers have produced literature reinforcing this rhetoric. I myself spent six months researching the impacts of digital technology and devices on ‘millennial’ learners and their ability to learn and retain information for my Master’s degree. Whilst my findings were not as negatively polarised as those of writers such as Nicholas Carr, Sherry Truckle and Susan Greenfield, I did conclude that there could be significant impacts on individuals and wider society if we fail to exercise caution, control and discipline when using digital technologies and if we fail to pass these skills onto new generations.
I feel I must defend myself a little at this point. I’m not anti-technology or anti-digital. I work in the field of IT, I have a passion for digital technology and I love the convenience of my digital devices and streaming services. I fully-support Coplin’s theory – it is our adoption and attitude towards and use of digital technology that is causing issues in society, not technology itself.
Positive applications of technology can save lives, help us to protect the planet, bring people together and introduce all manner of convenience and efficiency into our working, social and family lives. I don’t believe that we’re creating a new generation of zombie-like device-users incapable of building real life human relationships or employing critical thought. I have met twelve year olds that have astounded me with their common sense, intelligence, curiosity and yes, technical capabilities. The student who gave the opening and closing speech for Coplin’s lecture at Warwick School could have stood in front of any corporate board room and held his own.
I genuinely believe that today’s young people have as much talent, promise and potential as any other generation but that the technological advancements and the amount of information readily available to them, literally at their fingertips, gives them both advantages and disadvantages. Indeed Pew Research Centre concluded their in-depth 2012 research study into the future of technology with the somewhat inconclusively titled report “Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives“.
In my research, the evidence suggested that those who are able to efficiently use social media and other technologies and practice ‘multi-tasking’ when it is appropriate to do so, stand to do well in today’s digital society and workplaces. However, it is also apparent that if left unchecked and unmanaged, the issues we are seeing in society could continue and increase in prevelance and severity, creating negative knock-on impacts and detracting from the positive impacts.

I attended a talk by Adam Thilthorpe of the BCS at Business Analysis Europe 2018 in September courtesy of a UCISA bursary, in which he discussed what he termed the ‘unintended impacts’ of technology – those negative impacts discussed above. He raised the question of where the responsibility lies in pre-empting, identifying and mitigating against such impacts. When companies develop their media and communications platforms, I think we can fairly safely assume that they are not doing so with the intention that 11-year-olds will use them to send ‘sexts’; this is an unintended impact of the technology they have created. On the other hand, there are organisations who may exploit anxieties such as fear of missing out (FOMO), self-esteem issues and device addiction to market and sell products and services.
This raises a number of questions. Who should – or could – be responsible for identifying, pre-empting and mitigating against unintended and/or potentially unethical impacts of emerging technologies? Is it the responsibility of technology companies? Businesses? The Government? Educational Establishments? Parents? Individuals? Pressure groups? All of the above? And how do we begin to pre-empt such impacts when we are dealing with new, disruptive, previously-unseen technologies being released into an ever-changing society?
As a society we are experiencing an unprecedented rate of technological change. We are innovating incredibly quickly and have adopted digital technologies readily and intrinsically into our everyday lives. However, our legislation, regulation, educational systems and social and cultural norms are still changing at the same rate; comparatively slowly. It seems that we have been somewhat blindsided and as such have possibly not put in place measures to enable digital technologies to always be adopted and integrated into people’s lives in a productive, safe and useful manner. At the same time, we are so enamoured with our digital devices and applications and the convenience and opportunities that they bring, that we may not be pausing to consider the unintended and long-term impacts and effects of them.
In her 1979 book ‘Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love’, Dorothy Tennov coined the phrase ‘Limerence’, which she defined as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves an acute longing for emotional reciprocation, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and emotional dependence on another person.” It’s that period of a relationship where your brain is producing a heady cocktail of Dopamine and Oxytocin and the object of your attention becomes your sole focus. It’s the stage where strange habits, bad behaviours and the wider impacts of focusing on one person to the exclusion of all else seem insignificant. That wonderful phase where their window-rattling snores seem adorable and your friends barely see you for six months.
It seems that as a society we are in a state of limerence with technology. We overlook the wider impacts, the bad habits, the potential problems, the metaphorical duvet-stealing, because we are hooked on those little hits of dopamine and oxytocin that are released every time we get a ‘like’ on a photo on Facebook or a connection request on LinkedIn – the exact same checmicals that are released during the limerance stage of a relationship. Indeed neuro-economist Adam Penenburg’s research centres on drawing parallels between the chemicals released when using social media and those released when falling in love. Interestingly, just like with limerence, there are also elements of addictive behaviour displayed when using digital platforms such as social media. Indeed Smartphone and gaming addiction are now recognised as distinct social issues with 73% of the 2016 OFCOM report’s 16-24 respondents professing to be ‘hooked’ on the device they use most to go online and ‘gaming disorder’ being recognised as a mental health condition by the World Health Organisation.
The question this raises is what happens when we fall out of limerence with digital technology? When we come down from that heady chemical rush, will we still be in love and will the relationship still be sustainable?
The media spotlight on some of the social issues in recent years and the acknowledgement by health organisations of some of the health impacts of unhealthy technology suggests that we’re starting to edge out of limerence and into the stark reality of our ongoing relationship with digital technology. Perhaps we’re starting to want to reconnect with our old friends ‘Walk in the Countryside’ and ‘Conversations around the Dinner Table’ who we dropped in favour of the alluring blue glow of our smartphone screens in the late 2000s. Perhaps we’re starting to assert our independence a little, creating screen-free times, rather than being slaves to our devices 24/7. Perhaps we are thinking about how we can strike a balance between our online and offline lives.
As Stephanie Sarkis states: “Time heals the intense pleasure (and suffering) of limerence… in a long-term relationship, it’s when things start getting real.” It’s safe to say that this is a long-term relationship, a multi-generational one in fact. That’s why it’s so important that, as with any relationship, we work out what we want from it, how we can manage and balance it and how to ensure that it is a long, beneficial, happy and healthy partnership for everyone involved.
This article first appeared on Rachel’s blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

The importance of an international view of humanities digital content

Sarah Ames
Library Learning Services Support Officer
University of Edinburgh

DHC2018 part 1: some key themes

I was fortunate to receive bursary funding this year from UCISA to attend DHC2018 (Digital Humanities Congress – not to be mistaken with the 16th International Symposium on District Heating and Cooling, which tops the Google results). DHC is a biennial conference organised by The Digital Humanities Institute at the University of Sheffield, exploring digital humanities research, as well as its implications for the cultural heritage sector and IT support services.
In this first blog post, I’m going to list the key themes raised at the conference and in my next post, I’ll summarise some of the papers that I found particularly interesting.

Digitisation

This one isn’t new: without digitised content (and digitised content at scale), libraries’ DH offerings begin to fall short. While, in some academic libraries, DH tools and skills will become a key focus, ultimately, without making available collections, content, or data to interest researchers, partnerships with digital projects becomes problematic.

Data

One paper (Bob Shoemaker’s ‘Lessons from the Digital Panopticon’) discussed a project bringing together 50 datasets to trace the lives of individuals convicted at the Old Bailey; another drew together 4 different library datasets, to investigate the provenance of manuscripts; many others reflected on similar experiences. As libraries look to release collections as data, considering the most appropriate and accessible formats for these will be important. The need to bring together a mix of data types, formats and models, and often ‘bespoke’ formats, complying with no particular standard, is a barrier to research, requiring technical skills that most don’t have.

Global DH

A number of papers raised the issue of the ease of slipping into a Western-focused digital humanities, to the detriment of the field itself. With web and programming languages written largely in English, the focus of research, and particularly of text analysis, has been predominantly English-language. With papers focusing on Asia and Australasia, the global view of DH produces plenty to learn from – with much for libraries to consider, particularly in the relationship between libraries and DH in other cultures and countries.

Sustainability

A repeated issue raised in talks was the sustainability of DH projects going forwards – particularly in relation to web platforms. How are these projects to be maintained post-project completion, and who is responsible for this? What kind of documentation, languages and platforms can be used to assist with, and standardise, this? Is a website an output or a transient resource? How can library and IT services support this?

Funding

Of course, a major part of sustainability is funding: funding models need to meet the cost of web resources over time; not maintain their current short-term focus. The possibilities of crowdfunding to enable ongoing access to tools were raised, but ultimately this remains too fragile a source to rely on.

Digital preservation

With these exciting new platforms and tools becoming part of research outputs, the challenge of how to preserve them becomes ever more pertinent. Unusual data formats; new, innovative research using AR; and the function, importance and relevance of the front end of a website, in comparison to the data it surfaces, are all issues and challenges that need to be considered by libraries.

Publishers

Gale launched their new DH tool, sitting on top of their platforms, enabling researchers to analyse their content at scale without the use or in-depth knowledge of manual computational methods. Although raising issues of ease of use – while this is important to increase accessibility, an understanding of what the tools are doing under the surface remains important, particularly in relation to built-in biases – the platform looked good, and is currently in its early stages. However, this emphasises just how much work libraries have on their hands. With both the content and the tools increasingly in the domain of publishers, there’s a lot of catching up to do.
This blog first appeared in the University of Edinburgh’s Library & University Collections blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Developing ideas in pedagogical transparency for staff and students

Brandon Davies
Junior Audio-Visual Technician
City, University of London

Spotlight on Digital Capabilities, June 2018

When I applied for the UCISA bursary scheme, I immediately identified “Spotlight on Digital Capabilities”, as an ideal conference for what I feel is a most urgent and interesting point of contention within the higher education system today. The potential and ambition within the realm of future teaching-enhancing techniques is intense, and the conference further embodied this.
In my blog, I’m going to focus on two talks from the conference, with which I most connected. I will then expand that consolidation of information into my own thoughts on digital pedagogical applications.

Certification for IT training: options and approaches – Gareth Johns

The talk by Gareth Johns on options and approaches for IT training was eye opening.  The options presented brought together a vital mix of ingredients essential to constructing a sustainable system for engagement, efficiency and certification validity.
The MOS Course (Microsoft Office Specialist) is an official course run and certified by Microsoft themselves.  Using this as a benchmark for digital capabilities is a fantastic way to give staff and students a goal that is not just useful for working within the university, but an incredibly useful skill as a whole. Having a highly recognized qualification as the goal, helps add to staff and students’ employability skills for their career, as well as increasing the efficiency with which digital technology is used, and furthers the transition into modern teaching spaces.

Employability as a result of proficiency

As an Audio-Visual technician myself, the vastly increasing use of digital technology within teaching spaces, can be bewildering for staff and students.  However, these spaces have the potential to provide an increasingly communicative, inclusive and engaging form of teaching. Simply setting the MOS course as a goal is not enough.  At Cardiff Metropolitan University, Gareth has implemented interactive pages on Moodle, in which a more bespoke and broken down version of the course lessons can be taught. This, as well as regular seminars, creates a far more friendly environment and approach for learning the necessary skills required for passing MOS. Using real spreadsheets that staff and students interact with, helps bring home how useful these skills can be in day to day life. This contextualisation, as well as additional practice software such as G-Metrix, creates the infrastructure necessary for an intuitive and accessible course.

Developing a holistic institutional approach to digital capabilities development – Karen Barton

Karen’s talk opened my mind to a totally different approach to digital capabilities development, an holistic approach. Rather conveniently from my alma mater (University of Hertfordshire), Karen immediately separated herself from other approaches by viewing the situation from a larger perspective.
This picture from her slide perfectly demonstrates the side effects of a non-centralised approach to providing answers. With too many parties providing their own solutions, the result can be an overcrowded and inefficient environment.

 

 

Having a specific investigative objective from senior management, as one would expect, seems to have gone a long way in progressing Karen’s work. The use of a pilot programme as a result of the extensive resources allocated, is a great way to slowly refine the scheme before being finalised.
Five other universities have signed up to Hertfordshire’s pilot, a collaboration benefiting everybody. At Hertfordshire, the total redesign of the VLE has given the team there an opportunity to apply different pedagogical practices into the most commonly used software around the university. This has provided an exceptional opportunity to increase the accessibility and efficiency of the scheme. Such long-term integration of digital capability approaches, enables an accretion of infrastructure to the point where the very fabric of being a part of the university exposes you to the certification course and its requirements. Many different speakers from a variety of universities pointed out the use of Lynda.com and Karen was no exception. I’d recommended my university (City, University of London) consider the use of Lynda. I’ve used Lynda for personal development in the past and can speak only highly of it.
Here are a few ideas I have for increasing the success rate and enthusiasm for an IT certification scheme.

Don’t Fall Behind in the Digital Age

Marketing Ideas:
  • Giving a focus on the employability aspect of the course is vital; certification within digital capabilities is hugely beneficial in the modern job market. Indicate the need to stay ahead in the digital age and not fall behind, reinforce the accreditation from Microsoft. The opportunities for lecturers to save on valuable teaching time by becoming increasingly proficient with digital technology within the classroom, is an additional marketing focus.

Increase your chances of a higher salary!

  • Holding a prize within the course for exceptional students and staff could also be hugely beneficial to providing additional incentives.

Conclusions

Homogenising the wide variety of ideas and approaches from the conference is not an easy task.  However, what I’ve mentioned goes a long way to solidifying my own approach to a task requiring a great deal of re-wiring across higher education as a whole, which has no easy solution.
I’d like to thank all the speakers from the conference and UCISA for giving me the opportunity through the bursary scheme to attend. I hope to share my findings with staff at City, University of London, and encourage conversation on an incredibly interesting and complex subject.
Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.